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Living the Dream & the Reality


By Ratna Manucha

Brought up on a staple of Mills and Boon books (in fact it was the Bible of all girls and maybe some boys, too, back in the good ole’ days) we bided our time at an all girls’ school, all the while dreaming of Prince Charming who would one day come into our mundane lives and whisk us away on his faithful steed.

It was no wonder then that when a young man in Olive Green rode up the driveway on this red steed (read motorcycle) yours truly thought it was a sign from the good Lord up above. So with stars in my eyes and a song on my lips, I followed him into the sunset without a backward glance!

This was my stairway to heaven and I was not going to let it pass me by! My perfect life was waiting for me around the corner- first would come marriage, then a beautiful house with flowers in the garden and then would come the babies in a carriage…two, if you please!

I was rudely awakened from my dreams and jolted back to reality when the first house we were allotted was a temporary accommodation earmarked for demolition. (As a rule, in the services, married officers are first allotted temporary accommodation which is smaller in size and not too well maintained and later shifted to permanent accommodation, depending upon the availability in the station).

Someone in his infinite wisdom had cemented the western style toilet all around, so one had to climb up two steps to squat on the ‘throne’ in regal splendour!

One evening saw me in the Officers’ Mess, suitably attired in a saree, securely held together with safety pins all at the right places. I was being ‘dined in’, that is, I was formally being welcomed into the fold of the battalion.

I soon found myself before the Commanding Officer. In between the conversation he asked me in passing if I knew the Colours of the battalion. That was easy! Of course I did!

‘Red and Gold’ was my cocky answer.

‘Scarlet and the Gold’, he replied softly, as I stood there suitably admonished, like a chastened schoolgirl, my cheeks aflame in embarrassment.

The Second-in-Command had quite an imposing personality and to me he seemed like a Headmaster of some school. When he sauntered across that evening and asked me my name, I blurted out my pet name, as that was what I was used to being called! After all one’s formal name was used only in school!

The glowering looks from my better half didn’t help. The damage was done and couldn’t be undone! But the sweetest outcome of this was that I am known by my pet name in this particular battalion till today and it warms the cockles of my heart!

Romance soon flew out of the window and in its place came a stoic resignation.

Combating huge rats which came to frolic in my kitchen each night (Baramulla) and grandfather langoors sitting on the skylight inside my bedroom and looking down at me in utter disdain as I lay on my bed looking up at them quaking with fear, were some of the highlights of my stay in the army accommodation.

Syntax water tanks had just made their way into India. In Imphal, there was no piped water, so these black monsters were placed outside the bathroom doors of each house and we would fill our buckets from there. They squatted there in regal splendour and it was much later that they vacated their grassy patch and lumbered up on to the rooftops (with some help, of course)!

Packing and unpacking, attending and hosting dinners with panache became a way of life which I wouldn’t have exchanged for anything in the world. Friends became family, as we laughed and wept together, sharing our joys and sorrows. Some friends stayed on for life. Others were forgotten as soon as we turned our backs after waving goodbye at the railway station!

The railway station was another integral part of our lives, along with the ubiquitous black trunk, an important accessory, which when teamed with another ubiquitous black trunk with the same dimensions, would miraculously transform into a cosy, welcoming settee. This was one piece of furniture that was a constant in every household, and, boy, we sure were proud of it! After all, it belonged to us, unlike most of the other furniture which was issued by the MES and which we had to treat with kid gloves because you never know, if the little one jumped on it or dragged it from one place to another, soon we would find an arm or a leg missing (the furniture’s, not the little one’s!). It would then have to be sent back to the MES for a replacement and more often than not there would be a wait list for that too!

The wealth of an officer was judged by the number of trunks he owned – and whether he needed a full or a half truck for his luggage when he moved on posting!

‘Geru and chuna’ was our sole copyright and we used it with an intensity that would put today’s Apex paints to shame!

Giggling like errant schoolgirls when the Commanding Officer’s wife (COW) held a meeting and handed out duties for the VIP’s visits is a memory I cherish.

Juggling with flower arrangements (the bane of every army wife) was always a disaster as far as I was concerned. I couldn’t for the life of me manage it…and many years later, still can’t! My first and the last arrangement was discreetly placed in the men’s loo, royally labelled, ‘Kings’, during the Raising Day celebrations!

Life in the army was a roller coaster ride, with the highs far outweighing the lows. Beautiful moments were shared with like-minded friends, who crossed my path along this journey.

I am fiercely proud of our soldiers, the men in uniform. To me, they are all my Mills and Boon heroes – men of steel, grit and honour.

Straight from the classroom and into the hustle and bustle of the service life, I grew up – with a lot of help from fellow wives…and there is no way I would exchange it for any other.